In the relative cool of an Arabian winter, it’s easy to forget the terror of 50 degree afternoons when you need an oxygen bag and a strap-on fridge to walk five yards in the shade. Looking back over 2012 I’m happy to misremember sitting out in the garden with a dripping copy of Lars Gustafsson’s The Stillness of the World before Bach, desperately thumbing through the final poems before the book fell apart under the weight of my own sweat. There were books left out which opened in the heat like tubers; books dropped overboard from canoes which dried into salt-caked fossils. And yet, in this most forbidding and secretive of places, mercifully, thankfully the books came, and kept coming.
Nâzım Hikmet, Piraye’ye Mektuplar, YKY, 2012. This massive book of Hikmet’s prison letters to his wife Piraye ought to be among the foremost classics of modern Turkish literature. But you could just about say that for any of Hikmet’s books. First published by Adam Books in March 1998 and now reprinted as part of YKY’s Nâzım Hikmet series. This edition includes 581 letters over 772 pages. There could be no better use of a translator’s time than to bring this entire book over into English.
Paul Lunde and Caroline Stone, trs. Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness, Penguin Books, 2012. I loved this book so much that I wrote about it for Conversation Quarterly. You can read what I had to say by clicking here.
John Freely, The Grand Turk, I.B.Taurus, 2012. Freely never disappoints and here, in his spirited biography of Sultan Mehmet II, the Conqueror, his command of narrative plays faithfully to the facts. Few Pop Historians can rival Freely when it comes to the Ottomans.
Annie Proulx, Bird Cloud, Fourth Estate, 2012. In the summer of 2011, alone in a tent for two days and nights, I was pinned down to the side of a Swedish mountain north of Arjeplog by a magnificent storm, with little more than a bag of rice and a book of Tomas Tranströmer’s Collected Poems. I couldn’t bear to open the book and for the next five weeks in milder forests across northern Sweden the book remained closed. So when I carried Annie Proulx’s Bird Cloud all the way up into those same storm prone hills this year (2012), trapped again by a storm too big for me to think through, I knew I wouldn’t read it. But then I did. And when the rice ran out I even thought I might eat it. But then I didn’t.
Martin Anderson, Snow: Selected Poems 1981-2011, Shearsman Books, 2012. Anderson’s poems are what inner space was made for. Astonishing. Far and away the best book of poems published in 2012.
Anyone who can count one or two hours in the company of a book each day, no matter where or how they live, can count themselves among the chosen.